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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 1612


Mr RIPOLL (5:32 PM) —Today I take pleasure in having the opportunity to speak on a wide range of issues in this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010. I would like to comment on some key issues facing our nation, particularly in the coming decades, and some of the plans that I have in the coming years for my role in representing my community.

Queensland, as everyone knows, is an absolutely fantastic state and a great place to live. It is as simple as that. It is the sunny state; it is the lucky state. It is the state that everyone moves to—for very good reason, because it is a beautiful place. I am as parochial as the next person. There is no question about it. But it does lead me to speak about some very serious issues. Population growth is a very well-known part of Queensland life, particularly in the south-east, where it puts enormous pressures on our infrastructure and our ability to provide services such as energy, roads, health care, education and so forth. We love the growth, we like people coming to Queensland, but they are very big issues for us to deal with and I want to make particular note of that here.

We are dealing with those issues. Not only is the state government dealing with those issues but so is the Commonwealth—really for the first time since Federation. It is almost that long. Over the past decade and a half it was the case that the Commonwealth decided that it was not its role to play a part in infrastructure development in local regions. I have certainly held the view for a very long time that that should not be the case. The Commonwealth ought to play a role. That is certainly what the Rudd government have been doing, and I am very proud of that. I am proud of the achievements we have made in my part of the world, through the western corridor of South-East Queensland, and the great things those achievements bring to the state.

The population growth has been reflected through the latest Australian Electoral Commission federal redistribution. We had one in Queensland. It has been the case for quite a number of years now that at every election Queensland gets a new seat. We take one off one of the other states, which is fine by us. Within the western corridor, which is still driving much of the growth in South-East Queensland, it is no surprise that the electorate of Oxley has condensed in geographic size because it is growing in population density. I have lost a number of suburbs to the east of Brisbane—places like Acacia Ridge, Parkinson and Algester.

17:34:54

I just want to put on the record my thanks to those people, whom I still represent—they are my constituents up to the next election—and thank them for the support they have given me. I really do appreciate and value the work that we did together in those regions. I will formally be the representative—should the voters have the grace to re-elect me!—of new areas I have picked up: the centenary suburbs of Jamboree Heights, Jindalee, Middle Park, Mount Ommaney, Riverhills, Sumner and Westlake. I will look forward to looking after them, as I have done from time to time for a number of years even when they were not my constituency, when they might not have been being looked after by someone else. I certainly eagerly await the opportunity to work much more closely with the constituents and the families in those suburbs within the new parts of Oxley. I know we will have a great relationship. I am very proud to represent all of my electorate, those who have been with me since 1988, and I welcome those new constituents I will have in the future.

I am committed to the western corridor because I think it is a place that we should all be very proud of. I am certainly very proud not only to represent the western corridor of South-East Queensland but also to live there—to live there and enjoy all the benefits that it has, like our beautiful beaches. Many people may not know that in the western corridor we have beautiful beaches: they are only an hour away, on the Gold Coast! We have got some great motorways that take you straight there. We have got beautiful countryside. We have really got a great environment. I want to keep pushing home the idea that the western corridor is a great place to live, and it is proven day in, day out by the number of families that move to the region. They make a conscious decision to live there. It is a place that thrives on community spirit and it has real soul. It is a wonderful place to represent.

Of course, there are challenges for us, and nothing could better articulate that than the recent release of the latest Intergenerational report, looking at Australia over the next 40 years. I do not think there is a single more important document than this report. It probably has not got the attention it deserves in the media, but I will do my best to promote this report because of its significance to our economy and the things we ought to be doing in relation to it. I also want to congratulate the Treasurer on his work and his efforts in this area and on the great speech that he made upon the release of the report—about the importance he in his role places on that report and the challenges we will face in the future, and what we as a government will be doing to ensure that we look way beyond the electoral cycle to the next 40 years. Governments are often criticised, parliaments perhaps as well, for looking just at the next two years in the electoral cycle. Sometimes that may be a valid criticism, but I am very proud of the fact that we are paying serious attention to and doing things about the next 40 years as well.

As we all understand and as reflected in the Intergenerational report, the major challenges are the ageing population, employment participation and balance in the economy—three core factors determining where we might be in the future. If we want to maintain the standard of living we expect as people living in a wealthy country like Australia, we actually have to take action; we have to do something. We cannot just get the report and look at it. If we want to maintain our health services, including private health insurance schemes, and educational standards, we need to do things about them now. We heard the Treasurer speaking about the small changes you make today having large impacts in the future. Most people understand compound interest; this is a compound policy approach—small changes today, very large consequences in the future.

In particular, we need to understand just how significant the issue of an ageing population is. Between now and 2050, the number of people aged between 65- and 84-years-old will double. Even more startling is the revelation that the number of people aged 85 and over will quadruple. You can imagine, Deputy Speaker Georganas, the sort of pressure that will put on our health system and our aged-care system, on private health insurance schemes and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. We have to make sure that we manage those schemes well or we face the prospect of not being able to afford them in the future, as has happened in other countries. I am very focused on the need for us to do that properly.

This will mean that by 2050, there will be nearly 1.4 working Australians for each person over 65 years old compared to 2.7 people working today for those compared to five people who are currently working to support people who are over that age today. What that means is there will be significantly less people working, contributing revenue and taxation, to provide for those who are no longer working. In the future the population will be going from 22 million people to over 36 million people in 2050. These are significant numbers. People will understand very quickly the importance of those.

That means that our standard of living rather than falling will grow at a lower, slower rate. That will mean we will have less and less opportunity to maintain the standard of living we enjoy today. If you do not grow, you literally go backwards. So we need to make sure that we do everything we can. There are only a couple of ways you can do this: you can either tax people more or become more efficient and productive. I know what I would rather choose and I know what this government is about: it is about being more efficient and more productive. It is about employment participation and all of those things. We need to encourage more people in the community to work where they can for longer, to better manage retirement savings and to better manage our health system to make sure we can maintain the standards we are used to in this country. We have done that through a number of areas today, through our tax reforms, through our child-care rebates to ensure that Australian families have more opportunity to participate in work and to ensure older Australians have tax incentives and other incentives to continue to work if they choose to. The way that retirement and superannuation systems are structured best reflects the way that people want to participate in work as well.

I do not want to get in to the debate of climate change in terms of who is in favour and who is against. I think there is a much more critical debate at hand and that is that climate change is real. People are doing something about it globally, people are acting and they are doing things. The most critical thing for Australia is that if we do not act, we will be one of the ones most affected. It is a dry country. Even if you leave the climate change debate to the side, we need to act in terms of our climate, our crop development and the way that this country can manage itself into the future and manage the huge challenges that will face us. I have talked about these issues in other forums as well.

What the Intergenerational report does show us is that over the next few years we need to make some critical economic decisions to maintain where we want to be in the future. The bottom line of that is sustainability in everything we do: the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, health and the aged care sector and also in terms of budgets. We need to make sure that we manage risk whether it is climate, food security or our health care system. We need to make sure that we are part of any global solutions that are out there. People when they talk about climate change say it is complex. People just do not understand it. Some people would like to make it complex but it is really quite simple.

There are really just three things that people ought to know about climate change. The three Cs of climate change: putting a cap in place, charging the right people—the polluters—and it is about compensating people. That is all it is: it is as simple as that. It is a market based solution. It is something you would expect that the Liberals on the other side would be the first to support. Not so long ago they did support it and it was their policy. The reality is if you are going to have any system in place, it ought to be market based. Let’s have the market decide just how this will work because we know that will give it its best opportunity to work and work efficiently.

You put a cap in place, you set a benchmark and you go about setting a standard. We have put in a modest but a reasonable and achievable standard. We are working through that. The other one is to charge the right people. We should not be charging the average punter or taxpayer in the street. We should be charging the big polluters. Let them get charged through the market system. Where people need compensation, and that is the third C, the government can play its role. It is a fair market based system and one that can work. It is simple and is in fact what the rest of the world is currently doing, investigating or will be doing very shortly. We are ready know there are over 32 countries in the world that have an ETS and US, China in development. Whether they agree, do not agree or whether Copenhagen was a success or a failure, the reality is everyone is moving forward.

As I said before large-scale change that will come in the next 40 years is significant but it is the small adjustments that we make today that will make the big difference for our children into the future. Regarding the future, what we have done today and how we have gone about it in the last couple of years, there is no question that the Rudd government, coming in to government, faced a number of challenges such as a global financial crisis of almost unseen proportions for some 75 years.

I am very proud of our record and the things we did in terms of bank guarantees, stabilising the economy, the stimulus package, and dealing with the critical issues of infrastructure, housing and a whole range of other areas. The critically important thing that really sticks with me is the 200,000 jobs that we faced losing across our economy. We say ‘jobs’ and ‘economy’, but we are talking about people, their livelihoods and their ability to repay their mortgages. We saved those jobs through our stimulus packages. Through our efforts we not only maintained people in employment but also did something very important—we left a legacy through infrastructure, and I am very proud of that.

This is about investing in productivity, employment participation and maintaining spending discipline, which we have done through our budgets. Fiscal sustainability will be the key to the future. Every country must manage debt—there is no question about that. Australia is one of the best placed, if not the best placed, economy in the world not only to manage it but to sustain it. We are at the lower end of debt ratios, GDP and debt liabilities. We are at the good, sustainable end of that. If you were to compare the percentages—we are at 15 per cent; the United States is now approaching 90 per cent; Japan is quickly approaching 200 per cent, which is almost the critical fall-over point; and Greece is at the same sort of number—you can see that we are placed at the very low end. It is what you would call a normal leveraged position. It is manageable, sustainable and something we can deal with in coming budgets.

I want to congratulate again the Treasurer for his very good work in making sure that we can sustain all the services that are critical for people’s livelihoods and their wellbeing, such as our healthcare system, the aged-care system that deals with pensions and the aged, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and other things we have to maintain. There is always growing pressure on budgets and fiscal policy. Every year you want to do more. Every year you lift the bar, you lift the standards. That is what we are attempting to do. But at the same time we are making sure it is sustainable into the future.

I want to also talk briefly about Australia as a financial services hub. We can be a real driving force in the future in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia has obviously done very well compared to just about all of our neighbours and globally after the financial crisis, and that was not by accident. Australia has a very strong, robust regulatory system. We have good governance and a range of other mechanisms—prudential regulation and so forth—that place us well ahead of our competitors. We need to capitalise on that. We need to make best use of that. It is a growth sector and a growth industry. It is where a whole range of new, innovative jobs for the future can be created, and we can do that through a structured process.

I want to congratulate the Australian Financial Centre Forum on the 10 major recommendations it put forward in the Australia as a financial centre report, the Johnson report. It looked at what we can do to make that happen. I will not go through all of them, because I do not have time. We can do it through: investment manager regimes; offshore banking units; regulatory stability and certainty; funds management vehicles; liquidity; the Islamic finance products market, which is an emerging market in Australia; removing state taxes and levies on insurance, which I think is a critical issue on its own, but we can deal with it here as well; and avoiding unnecessary repetition of regulation. We need to lower costs and compliance burdens. We need to make sure we do it well.

I think there is a real opportunity for government to play a very strong role in this area, to lead the charge, to bring it together as one sector and to say to our neighbours: ‘Look at our expertise. Look at the funds under management here. Look at how well we have managed. We have that managerial skill and that expertise.’ That is something I think we should sell to the rest of the world. We can do that through export markets. I congratulate Minister Bowen as well for his ongoing good work in this area.

There are plenty of reforms underway. This is a reform government. It is a government that has been very focused on doing a range of things. There has been some work done through some committees and we have looked at the financial services sector as a whole. I look forward to the changes that will come about from the Henry, Cooper and other reviews—the reports of which are currently with the ministers.

In the couple of minutes I have left I want to finish off by saying that I think we have a real opportunity for strong sustainable budgets into the future with some really good ministers, Minister Tanner, the Treasurer and others working on a strong plan for the future for all Australians so we can all share the benefits that this country has to offer.

There is another issue, a global issue. I have spoken many times about global food security, but I want to divert slightly to something that is very close to Australia. I read recently a report of a study that was carried out throughout Greater Melbourne on type 2 diabetes, now the fastest-growing and most common disease killing people in Australia. It has enormous impact on ordinary people. In some parts of Melbourne, as this survey showed, as many as one in three adults actually has type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes, and the crisis with obesity and all those other related issues, actually had a starting point about 30 years ago with the development of high human-intervention foods, processed foods, fructose concentration and the changing of the food we eat, so much so that in the last 30 years you can really track this and see what a massive impact it has had on our lives. Type 2 diabetes is a reasonably new occurrence. It is really just 30 years old, in a sense.

I think that there is a lot more we can do. I think that people need to refocus their efforts on whole foods, on real food. Food generally does not come in a cellophane packet that you can jingle. This kind of food is full of three things basically—fat, sugar and salt—and has literally no food value whatsoever. It is no longer real food.

I will be campaigning on this issue for the rest of this year in my local community, building up to a challenge that I want to do to get people to focus back on the things that their parents and their grandparents used to eat. I am sure that, if you asked your grandparents if they recognised some of the foods today compared with when they were children, they would not. Everything that comes in cellophane packets today does not have the same sort of value. It is processed. I think that if we can educate people about those small changes and show them that there is a better way and that it is affordable, we can make a big difference in this really critical health area.

It links back to the things I talked earlier before about sustainability in our budgets. The big challenges of the future will be health care and issues such as type 2 diabetes. I think that there is something we can do about it and that we all ought to play a role. That is certainly one of the ways I think I can contribute, and I look forward to the opportunity I will have to work with my community and with others in trying to encourage people to get back to a wholesome lifestyle. (Time expired)